Lingering Lies

The Persistent Influence of Misinformation

The brain holds on to false facts, even after they have been retracted

By Valerie Ross 

After people realize the facts have been fudged, they do their best to set the record straight: judges tell juries to forget misleading testimony; newspapers publish errata. But even explicit warnings to ignore misinformation cannot erase the damage done, according to a new study from the University of Western Australia.

Psychologists asked college stu­dents to read an account of an ac­cident involving a busload of elderly passengers. The students were then told that, actually, those on the bus were not elderly. For some students, the information ended there. Others were told the bus had in fact been transporting a college hockey team. And still others were warned about what psychologists call the continued influence of misinformation—that people tend to have a hard time ig­noring what they first heard, even if they know it is wrong—and that they should be extra vigilant about getting the story straight.

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